© Ugur Akinci
Here is the 4th edition of a favorite of mine – Microsoft Manual of Style.
I forgot the number of times in my career when this authoritative reference volume helped me settle the style arguments that would never have been settled otherwise.
The fourth edition is a proof that Microsoft kept up well with the changes in the global market place, in general, and the technical communication field, in particular. The expanded third chapter, “Content for a worldwide audience” is probably my favorite in this whole volume. This is indispensable material for translators, publishing house attorneys, and content localizers as well.
Other chapters cover content for the web, accessible content, the user interface, procedures and technical content, practical issues of style, grammar (but of course), punctuation, indexes and keywords, and acronyms and abbreviations. The manual is capped by a dictionary and a good index.
Here is an example how times are changing: “In the first version of the manual included abbreviation guidelines for kilobyte (abbreviated simply as K) and for megabyte, but not for gigabyte In the world of cloud computing, we now include terabyte (TB), petabyte (PB), and on up to yottabyte (YB), or 1024.” Don’t tell me you heard “yottabyte” before. I sure as heck never heard of it until I read this mother of all reference guides for technical language.
This edition has quite a few surprises as well. The “accessible content” chapter, for example, seems to have taken a step back from political correctness in favor of expediency and utility.
Examples: Microsoft now advises us to use “blind, has low vision” instead of “sight-impaired, vision impaired”; “deaf or hard-of-hearing” instead of “hearing-impaired”.
The “user interface” chapter does an excellent job in naming every screen component you can think of – including (are you ready for this?) mobile phone screen components. That’s how update this beauty of a volume is. I bet the fifth edition will have yet another section on “mobile pad components”. Ribbon terminology also gets some coverage given the fact that all Microsoft Office applications are now migrating to the “ribbon” menu design look. Similarly the new MS Office “backstage view” (that annoys some old-timers to no end) also gets detailed coverage for the same reason that “ribbon” does.
Make no mistake, this is not a reference volume about universal technical documentation styles. It’s definitely about Microsoft style and the guide never tries to hide the fact. Yet, given the important role Microsoft has come to play in our lives for the last couple of decades, it’s a safe bet that these also happen to be technical documentation styles that are truly universal in their scope and appeal. I personally try to abide by them whenever I can.